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Biden renews vow to put a Black woman on the Supreme Court, as Breyer announces retirement

Biden said he would make a serious search, consulting members of the Senate from both parties as well as scholars and Vice President Kamala Harris—calling her “an exceptional lawyer”—and make a decision by the end of February, then “ask the Senate to move promptly on my choice.” In a key line in his retirement letter, Breyer states that “I intend this decision to take effect when the Court rises for the summer recess this year (typically late June or early July) assuming that by then my successor has been nominated and confirmed.” 

In brief remarks, Breyer quoted from the Gettysburg Address: “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.” Extremely civic-minded of him, and all too appropriate for the moment. Biden then invited Breyer and his wife to bring their grandchildren to see a handwritten copy of the Gettysburg Address in the White House.

Biden said he felt it would be “inappropriate” to take questions—and it’s a given that had he done so, several of the questions would have been inappropriate. The Republican howling over Biden’s promise to appoint a Black woman to the court has already begun, but the women presumed to make up Biden’s short list are eminently qualified by any standard. And, The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake points out, past Republican presidents have made clear that they intended to nominate justices from specific democraphic groups, without equivalent outrage. Both Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump were forthright about their intention to nominate women, and George H.W. Bush—though he denied having a “quota”—focused the search that ended with Justice Clarence Thomas on people of color and women.

Blake notes that women made up the same percentage of federal judges in 1980 as Black women do now, so Biden is limiting his choices no more than Reagan did. To say nothing of the nearly 200 years of unspoken exclusion of anyone but white men from the bench.

That won’t stop Republicans from spewing a vile flood of misogynoir. But if things go anywhere close to the plan, the process will end with a historic appointment to the court and a brilliant justice who may possibly someday get to write important decisions, though in the immediate future she will likely spend most of her time writing dissents.

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